First words from Rachel – and she’s off…

October 18, 2007 at 8:03 am | Posted in Dreams and imagination, Journey, Rachel Hazell | Leave a comment

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 16th October (Happy Birthday Annabel!)

Arrive at San Paulo 5:30am. Not allowed off during refuelling so the cleaners valiantly work around us. All stand and stretch, facing the open door hatch like wilted sunflowers. Hot n’ humid. Bad news: fluffy penguin order didn’t make the freight, so HMS Endurance will bring them in January – too late for Christmas. A shame indeed. North of Buenos Aires peering directly down on to a grid lined settlement looking like the tesserae mosaic you see in fancy ladies magazines…Hey all of our luggage arrived! Even the Christmas tree! Semi-hysterical taxi ride, all jammed into a Berlingo playing salsa, to the port. Recognise bits from four years ago. Our ship for the journey South is Hurtigruten’s splendid Nordnorge- all our supplies for Port Lockroy are in the hold. Much kerfuffle and harrumphing of baggage, sorting of paperwork and issuing of electronic passes, then here we are, me and Helen sharing cabin 340! Many of the crew and staff recognise Rick from previous seasons and are full of welcome for all of us. Sit quite gormless, sipping tea listening to a conversation about dried/salted cod (this is a Norwegian ship after all.) We discuss what work we need to cover. Fetid travelling clothes suddenly require immediate removal. Quick shower and a little gentle unpacking – the mountains of thermals redundant in this heat – stowed away in all the shipshape places. V promising lunch (for a protein addict) – scallops, prawns, crayfish, dried meats followed by the merest morsel of chocolate mousse. Well fuelled for initial exploration of ship; bars, library, café, lecture theatres, decks (fine skipping potential) and the HOT TUBS. Yey heh! Nothing for it but shorts and sunglasses on the sundeck for most of the afternoon, with occasional forays for iced water. Mosquitoes are huge and vicious! Fully conscious to soak up this memory of heat for the cold times ahead. So much to take on board and we haven’t even left Buenos Aires yet. The docks all around us are piled with building blocks of freight containers; vast numbers stacked eight high and cranes moving to and fro industriously. Very good lying around getting to know each other, knowing we have time to get there. Two egrets have flown over, which look like herons and remind me of my mummy. The Captain, his crew and expedition staff introduce themselves, briefly. Feeling somewhat pale and deranged now. Eat early and head out to the stern for departure. A ship leaving port is such a solemn thing. The last thick ropes flung from the quay with such finality. And waving. And the lights of the pilot boats and the city and the stars emerging. We’re all witty and together and tired and ok. Early bed, sinking down to lie straight out flat.

15th October

After ‘the last haircut’, ‘the last phone call’, ‘the last sleep in my own bed’ etc. it’s Monday. Eight o’clock run through Leith to swim in the outdoor pool. Lucky. No-one else there, just the blue sky and morning light and little clouds encroaching. Then a few hours of calm; pottering round, eventually packing, washing sheets. All very ordinary. Barbie and Charlie drive me, five months of kit and a Christmas tree through thick drizzly rain to the airport. Me and Barbs in the back whizzing from subject to abbreviated subject. Helen (The Post Mistress) bounds up – we’ve never met – and I know we’re going to be alright. Rick (Maintenance, Comms….Base Manager; the boss!) follows with rucksack laden trolley. Between us we’re 31 kilos over our baggage allowance. Ouch. That’s expensive!

Rick is anxious. Helen is bouncing. And I’m slightly suspended. Send forty-odd farewell text messages and am touched to receive a barrage of luck and love at the last minute. Fly to Frankfurt. There’s nowhere to do cartwheels. Just time for peppermint tea. Tudor (A young Antarctic old hand, coming to set up ‘robust operational procedure’) is at the departure gate. We have four seats of a middle row; horrid! Helen reads Rick’s book out loud as his glasses are in the overhead locker. Bodes well for literary bonding at least. Started reading Life Class by Pat Barker on the first hop, finish it as we touch down in Argentina. It’s just wrong sitting up all night.

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